Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weekly Topic Blog, Analysis of Possible Reasons why Neanderthals went Extinct

Ever since the first Neanderthal skulls was discovered in 1829, 1848, and 1856 followed by the classification of Neanderthals of a separate species by geologist William King in 1863, we have had to relook at our data and bias about how exactly this species of human lived. We initially thought species wad dumb compared to us and caveman like. It was not able to speak, and could not do much more than make fire. We now know they were actually a stronger, larger brained, and perhaps just as intelligent or more subspecies of us who had speech, some form of culture, and tools that were almost if not just as good as the ones made by modern our ancestors in Africa at the time.

One has to wonder, why did they die off and we didn’t? There are many proposed theories, combining one or a few of many possible reasons. Among the reasons proposed include war amongst themselves, war with us, cannibalism, disease, gender roles, running out of food, not good enough tools, change of weather, interbred and absorbed into our population, transformed into us, rapid extinction, gradual extinction, and being unable to adapt to new hunting methods. Over the last forty or so years, mounts of data and evidence has been found that support some of these reasons over others. Each week I will look at each of these possible reasons for the cause of their extinction, going over evidence or arguments for or against these reasons that has been made. Comments of suggestions, data, and others reasons I have not found are very welcome so that I can better blog about the reasons for their extinction. After exhausting almost all possible reasons, I will weekly blog about which combination these reasons seem to be more likely and fit together. Eventually I will try to either develop a theory or agree with some anthropologists’ theory based on the conclusions and the feedback I get from everyone who comments.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Neanderthal Genome almost Mapped

This is a review of an article by Steve Olson in the Smithsonian magazine of October, 2006.

Svante Paabo is director of the genetics department at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. In the past, he had much success with extracting DNA with from ancient humans, such as 2,400 year old mummies and the ice man. This success led Paabo to take on some very tough questions: What are the relationships of us and extinct homo species? When the ancestors of today's Europeans began migrating into Europe roughly 40,000 years ago, what really happened to the Neanderthals? Did we simply out-compete them, or did we interbreed with them, meaning that some very small fraction of their DNA is in us?

Paablo decided to look for mitochondria DNA in original Neanderthal bones. Many other colleagues did not see much hope in this technique but Paablo persisted and eventually got a bone specialist to saw off part of an arm bone of a 42,000 year old Neanderthal fossil. Paablo and his group found that this Neanderthal’s DNA was quite different. More studies then began to show that Neanderthals contributed very little, if any DNA to modern humans. Instead, we appear to have displaced them for the most part. There was very little interbreeding between the two groups, if any. The same seems to go for other archaic populations such as Homo erectus and Homo habilus. We just don’t seem to find much of a genetic trace of them in our code. Recently, Paablo is trying to derive more than just mitochondrial DNA, but much longer DNA strands that are responsible for building the rest of the body. Their end goal is to reconstruct the entire genetic blueprint for making a Neanderthal. They estimated it would take about two years to finish, and this article was written almost exactly two years ago. By doing this, his ultimate goal is to help identify any genetic changes that made us human, by noticing which genes are different, when this roughly happened, and maybe even why it happened. If I was doing this, I know I would have some side goals also. After entirely mapping out the Neanderthal genome, it could be theoretically possible to clone a Neanderthal. I would want to secretly reconstruct a few Neanderthals so that their lineage can live on once again!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Discovery of Fire

For my visual blog, I decided to use a picture of fire. I primarily chose fire because of the relevance of it to Neanderthals, but also a lot of feelings come up when people think of fire. Fire is a substance that can both bring a lot of help and harm to a human. Some people who have been severely burnt or who witnessed a house fire may see fire as a negative substance. Others, however, may see it definitely. Without fire, we would still be eating raw meet, which takes much more energy for the body to absorb. Imagine eating food all your life that was not cooked in some way. Without fire, man may never have been able to spread throughout the earth. Before the time of man permanetely settling in one place, a fire served as a place for warmth and protection from possible predators. It was also a place that created light, which allowed humans to carry on their activities throughout night time . I feel that fire is a blessing to humanity. However, any blessing can turn into a something bad when not used correctly.

After what was mention above, it is pretty obvious how relevant the notion of fire is to the Neanderthals. For the most part, Neanderthals lived in Europe from 200,000 B.C. to 30,000 B.C. During this time, Europe was quite a bit colder than it is today. Without fire, there is no plausible way a human species could survive the harsh conditions of this time (In fact, modern humans stayed in Africa until about 100,000 B.C.). Fire served not only as a place where food was cooked, but a place where a group of people must gather at night. Due to the need of fire, a Neanderthal culture was formed, which has remnants of permanent fire places, stone and bone tools, and burying places for the dead. When wondering how we somehow managed to go from being berry pickers to hunters and gathers to where we are today, one must give the creation of human-made fire the credit it serves.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

About this blog

Ever since taking an anthropology class in college, I have been somewhat fascinated in we share more than 99% of our genome with this species. I have always been interested in the deep questions scientist may one day be able to answer; questions such as how did life start? Or what does it mean to be human? Scientists are attempting to reconstruct the entire Neanderthal genome at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. One this genome is mapped; it could be theoretically possible to bring this extinct species back to life.

This blog will talk about what it might be like if the Neanderthals are resurrected, or they simply didn’t die off in Europe some thirty thousand years ago. Some topics include t how the general public might change there ideology on what it means to be human, or the notion of how we are different from animals. Discussions will be brought up as to whether or not issues such as racism would die off or become a lot bigger. As far as we know, Neanderthals could develop language and had brains bigger than us. They could probably interbreed with us as well. Would this archaic species then be able to blend in to our society? Would Homo sapiens see themselves as something better than this other human species, or would both species be seen as equal. This blog will try to stay away from the ethical issues that may arise from initially cloning a Neanderthal and talk about what life may be like if your fellow classmate was a different human species than you.